By Rick Assad
If there’s one individual that knows Burroughs High’s athletic culture and also helped create much of it, that person is Keith Knoop.
In one way or another, Knoop, the current co-athletic director and the physical education department chairman, has been on call for an incredible 27 years.
For 19 of those years, Knoop, who graduated from rival Burbank High, was the head coach of the football team.
That title still resonates with him. “Nothing beats being a coach on the sidelines, leading the troops into battle,” said Knoop, who guided the Indians to five Pacific League championships, including most recently 2015. “To watch them execute a game plan together that you have worked on all week. And when you pull it off, wow!”
Knoop, who knew when it was time to call it quits, continued: “At first, being an athletic director and watching was tough, almost stressful,” he noted. “But I have learned to let go now. Much easier to watch now. In 2016, 2017 and 2018 I was still an assistant, so I got to coach a little.”
Knoop addressed how this long trek began.
“I played football for [former longtime Burroughs athletic director] Marty Garrison when he was the head coach at Burbank High and was on the track team,” he recalled. “I then went to Glendale Community College, where I’m still in the record book for most sacks in a season [top 10] and where I played for my heroes and mentors, Jim Sartoris and John Cicuto.”
Knoop went on: “From there I received a scholarship to play at San Jose State University for Jack Elway [John Elway’s father] and Claude Gilbert,” he said. “When I was done at SJSU, I returned home and had my first coaching job at Chaminade High where we played in the CIF [Southern Section] championship game. I then returned to GCC where I coached for five seasons. When the time came in 1993 and I needed a job, I was able to get on at Burroughs with Gary Bernardi when he was hired for one year. I was at Burbank for three years and Burroughs for 27. So I would say Burroughs is in my blood.”
Knoop, who began his football head coaching duties in 1997 and was inducted into the Burroughs Hall of Fame, acknowledges that any success he has had is the result of having faithful people behind him.
“My wife, Julie, has been my biggest support system and is truly outstanding. I even asked her to be my game filmer which she did until I retired,” he said. “My mother, Marjorie, has been to every game I played and coached in. My brother, Ken, was also on my staff for many years and was a tremendous help running the defense. In the end, it took its toll. Long hours and type-2 diabetes. I just had to stop.”
Knoop isn’t the only family member with athletic talent.
Knoop’s brother, Ken, was the Foothill League 100-meter champion for the Indians and his sister, Karin, was also elected to the Burroughs Hall of Fame after starring as a softball player and later competed in volleyball and basketball at Cal State Fullerton.
For many years, the Indians and Bulldogs were members of the Foothill League that included such dynamic squads as Hart, Canyon, Saugus and Valencia.
“It was a chore just to not get our players injured every week. Burroughs and Burbank played each other to not be in last place in the league,” said Knoop, who was also a physical education teacher. “Lockheed had moved to Palmdale and the [Valencia] Vikings were defunct. It was hard to get quality teams to play that loaded Santa Clarita school. In 1997, I became head coach and started to lobby moving to another league or changing the Foothill League. In 2006 after a re-league vote by the CIF, we were put into the Pacific League which demographically was suited for Burroughs.”
Knoop added: “The first year we won the league championship undefeated. All those years of playing super tough teams paid off,” he explained. “From there we won four more for a total of five in 10 seasons. I think that stands out. We brought back Burroughs football pride and tradition. We also started getting some great athletes during that time. Success breeds success.”
Using more detail, Knoop broke down why the Indians were able to win at a higher rate in the Pacific League.
“First, we learned to be tough playing in the Foothill League. Next, we were playing students more like us in terms of ability,” he said. “To be honest, sometimes we did not have the biggest or fastest players in the Pacific League, but our kids played tough and we out-coached a lot of the other teams. Our team preparation was second to none.”
Knoop could be a tough taskmaster. “For me, it was about then and now. As a coach and a teacher, I was hard, tough, passionate [some would say too much],” he said. “I pushed players to the limit. I made them raise the bar and put the work in. But I would like to think of myself as fair. I would treat everyone the same. I also would put an arm around a player after practice or a game after I was hard on them and explain why.”
Knoop continued: “I truly loved my players and coaches. I hope I influenced my players to want to be good citizens and contribute to society,” he said. “Now I have mellowed. I do not get fired up about stuff and it has made me much happier.”
With the coronavirus still making life miserable for so many people, Knoop hasn’t been immune.
“COVID-19 has made for a lot of work actually,” he said. “Rescheduling, switching officials, learning about COVID and COVID safety protocols. Just hoping these young student-athletes get to play. I feel bad for those seniors last spring.”
Reflecting on his career highlights, Knoop said winning was paramount. “All of the league championship years [2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015] were memorable,” he said. “I also had some great early years teams [1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2007] that are dear to me. I coached some outstanding young men during that time, so many it would take a page to name them all.”
Though Knoop is five years removed from coaching, he’s pleased the way everything has turned out.
“Burroughs has been a family. I have had great support at Burroughs. The administration and the teachers and my booster club support was amazing over the years,” he noted. “The parents that were part of my booster club over the years is what really made us successful.”
Knoop added: “I have been at Burroughs 27 years,” he said. “I have been a defensive line coach, taught chemistry, been a defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, head football coach, physical education department chair and now the eighth athletic director for John Burroughs. It’s been a great ride.”